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Recovery from stroke is a long, difficult road

Second of four parts

B.J. Oram, who lives in Dunnellon, had a major stroke in 1991. Last month he began the story of his odyssey from devastation to recovery.

When I was young, an elderly person who experienced a stroke really had no hope. If it didn't take the person quickly and mercifully, it left that person in a physically disabled condition and too often a mentally disabled person.

Modern medicine can change that for you if you have God's plan in your favor and have great support.

I know of three times when I've been in God's hand. Two were during World War II.

The third was my stroke. They tell me it was Aug. 19, 1991. I spent one month in the hospital (another 31 days in the intensive care section after the necessary cranial surgery), and don't remember one hour or day of it.

But here I am walking and talking and writing again.

I'll have to tell you how bad I was to let you understand how far my "blessed" trip has taken me.

In intensive care I had to be tied in a chair with a sheet so I could sit up. I couldn't talk because of all the hoses in my throat. I guess I lived on IV's and my wife Dottie's love. It was total assistance and so many, even our priest, said I would never walk or use my left arm or leg.

Of course, at that time no one knew if I'd recover mentally. It was day to day, and even the neurosurgeon hinted how lucky I might be not to make it. With all this mess, my wonderful wife drove over every day and sometimes twice, as well as taking care of the house and other obligations. Finally, she was given some hope in the form of a place called Upreach Rehabilitation Hospital in Gainesville.

I arrived in a delivery van. From Day One, a sign over my bed read "Total Assistance."

I left 2{ months later in a wheelchair and walked to the car. During those months I learned the true meaning of "no pain _ no gain" and love and faith and hope.

In the '30s and '40s, stroke patient programs were aimed at "making-them-comfortable" until they pass. Today it is rehabilitate _ which is work. The goal: Make them useful.

The day would begin with one or more physical therapists getting me out of bed early to clean up, shave and put on a robe. I was so weak I couldn't push the plug in deep enough for the electric razor to work, so they would push it for me. Then it was into my wheelchair to wheel myself _ with only one arm _ up a long corridor to breakfast. Of course, my love, Dottie, would meet me every day.

Breakfast was a crowd of other patients. The older ones were usually stroke patients and the younger ones, vehicle accident patients. We learned how to do all the things we take for granted: pick up a glass, use a spoon, talk, drink, swallow.

I had a special talent _ my Irish sense of humor, which helped me and others.

Sometimes we would work together. I had a good right arm and hand and someone else had a good left, so we joined forces when the staff was busy. My jokes and humor got me into trouble at times, but most were happy for it because it was a depressing, sad group, and smiles and laughter are good medicine for the sadness. God left me here for a reason.

Our time at breakfast would end when the occupational and physical therapists taped the schedules for our rehabilitation to our wheelchairs.

Rehabilitation began in a large gym-type room and lasted until lunch break. Then we went back again for about two more hours. We did simple things, like moving our hands and fingers and legs, and dexterity puzzles. You had to keep your body from freezing up and becoming useless.

I found the secret to getting out and going home was to do more than they asked. If they asked for 10 movements, I would do more _ maybe 15 or 20. Of course, after it ached, I felt like stopping, tempted to do only what they wanted. But but I knew the secret was to get better, so I found out how much pain I could take and pushed harder anyway.

I was helping myself get to the front discharge door. It also gave incentive to those less motivated, and I enjoyed seeing the smile on my wife's beautiful face. I loved showing off for her after all she went through for me. It was really great when I could get up from the wheelchair and try to walk.

I was very proud one day when my grandsons and family visited and I stood from my wheelchair to the oldest boy, then a teenager, and said I didn't want him to remember "Pop" stuck in that wheelchair. I'm 6 feet tall and he is over that, so it was quite a stretch for me to do, but God helped me, and I stood face to face to hug him.

To get out of this rehabilitation hospital, both Dottie and I had to take classes in how to live at home. We also had to install safety devices for the walls (handrails) and shower. Fortunately, we live in a newer Florida house without stairs or second floor.

They emphasize how many stroke patients come back with bad injuries, like a broken hip or leg from a fall after discharge. It takes planning, effort and thinking just to live a normal life, but it is better than the alternative.

Next month: Going home